As families spend more time outdoors during summer months, parents and other caregivers should be aware of the hazards related to bee stings, and how they can help prevent a child from being stung, a CHOC pediatric allergist says.
Bee stings can be quite common, and don’t usually lead to a serious reaction, says Dr. Wan-Yin Chan. However, there are several things parents can do to help prevent bee stings:
- Keep food and drink containers closed when outdoors.
- Wear shoes, socks and gloves when working outdoors.
- Hire an exterminator to remove hives and nests around your home.
- Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing or perfume.
- Remain calm and walk away if you spot stinging insects.
If your child is stung by a bee, remove the stinger as soon as possible because venom can continue to be released for several seconds, says Chan. There is no special technique, but you can try flicking the stinger out as this prevents compressing the venom sac.
The most common reaction from a bee sting is a local reaction that consists of redness and swelling at the site of the sting that usually resolves within a few hours, but may last up to a day or two.
About 10 percent of people develop large local reactions, characterized by redness and swelling that increases in size over 1 to 2 days and can measure as large as 10 centimeters in diameter. This type of reaction typically resolves over five to 10 days.
There are several ways to treat bee stings at home, says Chan. For small local reactions, try cold compresses.
For large local reactions, in addition to the cold compresses, you can elevate the limb if the sting is on an extremity. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can help relieve pain, and oral antihistamines or topical steroids can help relieve itching.
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Anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction in response to insect stings, occurs in less than one percent of children and in three percent of adults.
Seek emergency medical attention if your child experiences any of the following symptoms of anaphylaxis:
- Swelling of the face, throat or tongue
- Hoarse voice
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of consciousness
Also seek immediate medical attention if there are any signs of infection, which include fever, redness, swelling at the sting site, or worsening pain three to five days after the sting. For infection, your child’s pediatrician might prescribe antibiotics.
For anaphylaxis, the patient will be given at least one dose of epinephrine, also called adrenaline, which can help constrict blood vessels in order to increase blood pressure, reduce wheezing, improve breathing, and work to reduce hives and swelling, says Chan. A second dose may be required if the first dose is not effective. Because a severe allergic reaction can last for hours, patients should be monitored for several hours after administration of epinephrine.
A commonly prescribed epinephrine injection is typically only prescribed when there is a history of anaphylaxis. If the reaction was a local reaction, it is not necessary to carry an epinephrine injection.
If your child has a history of anaphylaxis to bee or other insect stings, ask your pediatrician about a referral to an allergist/immunologist, who can provide further evaluation and allergy testing. If allergy testing is positive, patients may be treated with allergy shots, which can almost completely eliminate the chance of a severe reaction if they get stung again.